Attitudes That Do Not Square with the Christian Faith: Elitism
Different age groups and segments of the Christian church will struggle with different problems. Yesterday’s idea or problem, “coolness,” will mostly affect young people who don’t realize that love and truth are the cornerstone principles of the Christian faith, and that Christians were never called to be hip, but to be holy, kind, bold, and truthful. Today’s problem will affect more of the learned folks of our churches, those who have achieved a high standard of academic accomplishment. It may also affect those who are economically successful.
I see elitism sometimes from my humble perch as a pastor-in-training, and it never sits right. Elitism, for the record, involves thinking one is better than others because of some specialized credential and then acting to isolate oneself from that inferior group even as one associates with those who hold one’s own credential. I see this behavior at seminary and it troubles me. Christians may educate themselves or become wealthy or famous or some such thing, but they never become a better human being than any other person. Those who grade papers for a professor or wear a suit to work or talk on the phone with celebrity pastors are no better or worse than you or I. The staff of Bethlehem Baptist (where John Piper pastors) are no better than the staff of East Podunk, New Hampshire. There may well be a difference in quality of preaching and so on, but this does not in any way make it more desirable to know and associate with the staff of Bethlehem than it does the staff of my thirty-person church back home in Maine. Professors here at Southern may have PhDs and write articles that quote German sources in the original language, but I’m no more impressed with them than I am my former Sunday School teachers. I may learn more from my professors here, but I’m not to esteem them any better as people and to seek to isolate myself from “common folks” in order to join the cloistered seminary professor community. That’s gross thinking. It’s entirely antithetical to Christianity.
Christians should respect authority, and they are told in Scripture to reverence their leaders. So this is our fundamental posture towards those in authority over us. But with that said, the central figure of our faith, Jesus Christ, was to His core a humble person. He was very God Himself, and yet He was completely humble. His humility characterized everything He did, and it was the genesis of His coming to earth. How unlike Christ we so easily become. We get a little taste of power, a few letters to our name, and suddenly we rule the world, albeit from heights no man has ever ascended. More than this, we barely make an effort to talk to those outside of our elite peer group, while Christ gave His very body and blood to draw those people to Himself. Here’s a call to my fellow Christians, whatever position you possess, whatever authority you wield, to never esteem yourselves as qualitatively better than any other believer. Cultivate a love for all your fellow church members. Carry yourself with dignity, men, but never arrogance. Carry yourself with grace, women, but never haughtiness. No matter what others whisper to you, no matter what you tell yourself, no matter what the world encourages you to think, you are no better than any other man. You are called, fundamentally, to humility, an attitude that does not square with the world but which certainly squares with the cross.